Jeremy M. Davies at The Quarterly Conversation:
Long have I labored in the temples of translation, if not as a cleric, then let us say as a graying vestal. In those drop-ceiling’d holy sites, papered with grant applications and hung with the leathered hides of forgotten interns, rumors have long persisted of the great untranslated Irish-language novel Cré na Cille, its title traditionally English’d as “Graveyard Clay.” Now called The Dirty Dust (the better to retain author Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s alliterative original, says its introduction), it has at last been made available to Anglophones thanks to translator Alan Titley and the Yale Margellos World Republic of Letters.
“An influence on Finnegans Wake!” was one commonly heard refrain concerning this as-yet obscure object of desire, never mind that the two novels’ respective dates of publication make this a strained point at best. “In a league with Flann O’Brien!” was another, more reasonable, certainly more accurate line. To complete the trifecta, I even heard a few variations on “Beckett loved it!”—presumably unsubstantiated, but nonetheless tantalizing. Whether or not Ó Cadhain’s prose could really match or anyway trot sans embarrassment alongside the mighty strides of this Holy Trinity, the book’s premise was enough to lend credence to the rumors. Cré na Cille comes with an unbeatable “elevator pitch” that rhymes most deliciously with the work of its author’s best beloved countrymen: it’s none of your garden-variety narratives, following a protagonist or protagonists through which- and whatever conflicts and experiences, no. It’s 100% dialogue, and not just any dialogue, but a chorale of dead souls, every character already having snuffed it and been stuffed into their graves. À la an Our Town or Spoon River cross-pollinated with No Exit, however, these corpses are perpetually, rather hellishly awake, aware, and gabbing in Ó Cadhain’s wonderfully unsplendid hereafter.